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To media, rape is hilarious (to me, not so much).

mmcewans Icon Posted by melissa mcewan

June 8th, 2007

Examining—and subverting—victim-blaming and other associated rape narratives has long been a part of the blogging I do at Shakesville, but recently, “Rape is Hilarious” has become, much to my chagrin, a regular feature. Just in the last month, I’ve had occasion to write about some of the most profoundly unsettling “jokes” about rape about which I’ve ever written in nearly three years.

On May 11, I addressed a segment done on the XM Satellite Radio show of “shocks jocks” Opie & Anthony, whose featured guest was a man called Homeless Charlie, who regaled the laughing hosts with a running commentary on how he would “fuck to death” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush:

Says Homeless Charlie: “I’ll tell you what—what’s that George Bush bitch, um, Rice…? Condoleezza Rice? … I’d love to fuck that bitch dead, man,” at which point the rest of the studio erupts into laughter. Homeless Charlie says again, “I’ll fuck that bitch to death,” to which Opie/Anthony reply, “I just imagine the horror in Condoleezza Rice’s face—” [uproarious laughter and interjection “When she realizes what’s going on!”] “—as you’re just like holding her down and fucking her.” More uproarious laughter, prompting Homeless Charlie to continue: “Punch her all in the fucking face—shut up, bitch!” Says Opie/Anthony: “That’s exactly what I meant!” [raucous laughter]

Continues Homeless Charlie: “And George Bush wife? I’ll fuck that bitch to death!” Opie/Anthony (pretending to be Homeless Charlie): “Hey woman! Hey woman! I’ll show you a real man! Why don’t you come by my box?—I’ll show you a real man!” [laughter]

And then, just so this spectacular conversation doesn’t die a premature death, one of the hosts prompts Homeless Charlie to keep going, with: “Hey—what about, uh, what about the Queen? Current events—the Queen just finally went back to her dumb castle or whatever.” Homeless Charlie exclaims: “Fuck that bitch! … Fuck the Queen. She lost. You lost, bitch. Why you coming over here, you horse-faced looking bitch? [whinny]” [laughter]

The hatred of women in the segment is palpable; if women aren’t being threatened with being fucked to death, then they are, like the Queen, who, as she is a “horse-faced looking bitch,” tellingly not threatened with rape—because, you see, being fucked to death and punched in the face by a man called Homeless Charlie is a compliment, rape being something that only happens to attractive women.

The ensuing comments thread stretched into 230 comments over the next few days, as Opie & Anthony fans poured in, all too happy to prove my point that joking about rape desensitizes people to its abject horror. (Kate Harding did a wonderful post about the thread, in which she compiled some examples.) Naturally, the problem was that I am a humorless feminist, hysterical because I have myself been raped, and, by the way, I should get raped and die. Which, of course, was probably just a joke, too. Because rape is hilarious.

A week later, I wrote about Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly, who used the occasion of an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor to make a hilarious rape joke, too. Discussing the case of the woman who was raped (except not, according to the court) by her boyfriend’s brother, Kelly says: “As soon as the lights went on, and she saw the guy leave the, uh, room—and, by the way, allegedly it was only a two-minute exchange, ah, so she lost on all ends.”

Ha ha—get it? She lost on all ends, because she was raped and it only lasted two minutes! Not enough time for her to start liking it. Ha ha! Hilarious, right?

Immediately afterwards, O’Reilly cut to a segment on—I couldn’t make this up—Opie and Anthony.

On May 30, it was teen rape that was hilarious, as Timbuk2, hawker of hipster bags, debuted a new campaign featuring a smarmy guy out on the road somewhere and an underage-looking girl crying at home while clad in a tacky prom dress, separated by the text: “Here today. Gone Tomorrow.” Below that, the following ad copy: “Just like that jerk that stole your virginity, these bags are only around for a short time.” At best, it was an allusion to a young girl who had been manipulated into sex by an older man, constituting statutory rape, and, at worst, it was an allusion to forcible rape.

As noted here by Andi Zeisler, a Timbuk2 representative admitted they had considered “softening the copy to something like… ‘just like that guy who never called…’” but “The powers that be didn’t think it packed the same punch… or was as funny.” Because, of course, rape is hilarious.

Which brings us to today’s installment, in which a two-bit actor performs a song called Feigning Interest about a mean-spirited guy terminally bored and pissed off by the two-dimensional babe whom he nonetheless wants to screw, so he’s “feigning interest, feigning interest” while she spews trite crap…until, that is, they’re “a few more drinks in” and she says she French-kissed her friend and owns a vibrator, and then he’s “gaining interest, gaining interest.” In no time, they’re heading back to his place, where the woman (whom he’s been viciously insulting throughout the song) passes out. But “hey—there’s no one around; I could still knock it out” (even though she’s unconscious, perhaps especially so). Next charming line: “I say you shouldn’t have gotten so drunk, while I’m propping you up…” And then he’s “gaining entrance, gaining entrance.” But just as the Jessica Rabbit-impersonator wakes up and registers horror at what’s happening, he says, “Just kidding! … I would never do that! As far as you know…” Wink wink, nudge nudge. And thusly does the hilarious song end.

Josh Hopkins’ fans think the video is all kinds of funny and declares anyone who doesn’t—surprise!—is humorless and needs to lighten up.

Never mind how the video is, disturbingly, the perfect video representation of something I wrote last November about (date) rape:

At this point, I think it’s worth noting that we’re talking about a very particular kind of rape. It’s not the kind we might typically associate with the word “rapist,” which tends to conjure images of a masked man hiding in a hedge on a deserted street, who overcomes a female passerby and forcibly submits her to his assault. It’s the kind that we don’t like to think about, the kind in which the opportunity presented by a woman who can’t resist, or even say no, becomes irresistible to a man who wears no mask and carries no knife. He is in every other way an average man, who may even have been the focus of this woman’s friendly attention earlier in the evening. He may even feel guilty about what he’s done tomorrow, but it does not stop him tonight—and he does not consider himself a rapist. And what separates him from most men is that he chooses to abdicate his responsibility in not hurting another human being for his own fleeting pleasure.

…What makes the man who has never raped before, who may even have a girlfriend or wife at home whom he does not mistreat, who appears to his coworkers and friends and family to be the proverbial Nice Guy, look at the unconscious form of an incapacitated woman and decide, unlike most men, that it’s okay to fuck her? What, in his mind, makes her his, to do with what he pleases? We are fooling ourselves if we believe he is an easily identifiable abomination. He is not.

The video quite literally conveys what happens in a (date) rapist’s mind and turns it into a punchline. And if you don’t think that’s hilarious, well, what’s wrong with you?

And on and on we go…

I refuse to let any of it slide, humorless hyper-reactionary though I may be seen to be, because the problem with all of it, each piece of it, is that there are plenty of people who will look at this one ad or video or “joke” and decide it’s defensible. Or that one ad. Or that other ad over there. Or this TV show. Or that movie. Or this radio program. Or that comedy bit. Or this rape joke. Or that rape joke. Or another rape joke over here. Or that guy saying he got “raped” by the IRS. Or that guy having sex with his date who drank too much and passed out. Or these guys who gang-raped an unconscious girl and blamed her for it. Or the local DA who didn’t think the gang rape of a 17-year-old—with witnesses—was not worth prosecuting.

The media-manufactured trail from “lighten up” to “she wasn’t raped even though she had some else’s vomit in her mouth and no memory of multiple men having sex with her” is all too clear. Each ad or video or “joke,” every news article that blames the victim for assaults against her, every radio owner that profits from shock jocks’ misogynistic pandering—each piece of it is part of a rape culture from which it cannot be extricated. All of it contributes, all of it desensitizes, all of it enables, all of it is garbage. Dangerous, toxic garbage. We breathe it in like any other pollutant. And the inevitable result of letting it accumulate is the same as with any other poison— eventually, someone gets hurt.

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